A Pastor’s Reflections: My Day Off
I can remember one of my seminary professors telling me, “Be sure to take your day off. If you don’t, I promise you, you will take your missed days off all in a row as you lay flat on your back.” In other words, if you don’t take some time to rest, your body will eventually crumble beneath the heavy workload and you will find yourself sick in bed, or worse, in a hospital. I know there are plenty of vocations that have intense schedules, and the pastorate is definitely one of them. When most people have time off, such as Saturdays or Sundays, the pastor works. He might be locked up in his study on Saturday preparing his sermon, and between preaching on Sunday morning, teaching Sunday school, hosting guests for lunch, meeting with a prospective church member, and then preaching the evening sermon, he is wiped out. One of my chosen forms of exercise is running—I typically stick with 3 miles, though I occasionally run 5 or 6. During my first year of ministry by Sunday evening I felt like I did after a 6-mile run—I was exhausted. In addition to this, I found myself working Sunday through Saturday, whether because of my normal work, counseling appointments, or church activities. One of my longest stretches of time was working 36 days straight without a day off. It wasn’t the end of the world, but I recalled my professor’s counsel and I began to be careful about taking my day off.
Initially, I tried to take Fridays off. That day didn’t work out too well. I found that it was a popular day for church events and for people who wanted to schedule meetings. I switched to Mondays, and this was perfect for me. Monday was a fairly quiet, uneventful day in comparison to others. I found that people were too busy trying to get settled at work and there were rarely church events on Monday. It was also a nice respite after a very busy Sunday. On my day off I did my best to get as far away from my work as possible. At the time, my wife worked outside of the home, so I had the day to myself. I would help my wife by cleaning the house, do some laundry, wash and detail the car, go to a movie, read a novel—anything that would take my mind off of my work. If you think about work then your time off might not be all that restful. And, sometimes it’s best to get away from your work and reexamine it with fresh eyes—this can be very helpful to your insight and productivity. On some days off I would go into my garage and work in my woodshop—I would build things. I found that using my hands was quite conducive to using my brain in my sermon prep. The same can be said for exercise—I would go on long runs and afterwards feel refreshed and mentally alert.
From time to time someone would want to schedule something on my day off. Unless it was urgent, I typically declined such requests and scheduled them for other days during the week. But I was always careful in how I declined such appointments and invitations. I always felt that if I told someone, “I’m sorry, it’s my day off tomorrow. I can’t meet with you,” that it would not be well received. Many people in the church do not realize how busy a pastor’s schedule can be and how important it is to take time off. All they know is that the pastor just gave them the stiff arm to take his day off! Instead, I would tell them, “I’m sorry, I’m booked tomorrow. Can we find another day of the week for our meeting?” This answer was true but unspecific. It allowed me to protect my day off without sending the message that my rest was more important than someone else’s problem. Just to be clear, if it was urgent, I always gave up my day off to help someone in dire need. But you need wisdom and discernment to decide when something is urgent. I once worked myself into a raging case of walking pneumonia. I was no good to anyone, neither my family or my church. If you burn the candle at both ends, you will eventually run out of wax!
So in the end, take your day off! It’s important for your ministry, family, and physical well-being. If you work hard, play hard. If you’re not a minister, recognize that your pastor needs time off to rest and spend with his family. A well-rested pastor will be more effective in his ministry to you and your church.